Eddy Merckx critical of Van Aert’s Gent-Wevelgem gift: ‘I wouldn’t have done it’
Wout van Aert’s decision to gift his teammate Christophe Laporte victory at Gent-Wevelgem has been given a collective thumbs-down in Belgium from three of his fellow Belgian cycling greats - Eddy Merckx, Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen.
Laporte and Van Aert broke away more than 50 kilometres from the line in the rain soaked edition of Gent-Wevelgem, in a repeat of their long distance joint attack at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic in 2022.
Van Aert pulled ahead in the closing metres to win in Harelbeke a year ago but at Gent-Wevelgem this Sunday, Van Aert let Laporte take the top spot.
Van Aert's gift came after he beat Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) to win Friday's E3 Saxo Classic and before he expects total loyalty from Jumbo-Visma at next Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
Laporte appreciated Van Aert's generosity but other people didn't.
Eddy Merckx made it clear when talking to sporza.be that he did not agree with Van Aert’s decision, even though he emphasised that he fully respected that choice.
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“It’s his [Van Aert’s] choice to let a teammate win, but I wouldn’t have done it," Merckx said.
“Wout van Aert was by far the best, you saw that on the Kemmel,” he added, referring to the moment where Laporte briefly lost contact with the Belgian on the key Gent-Wevelgem climb. “He [Van Aert] could have written history by winning Harelbeke [E3 Saxo Classic], Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders.”
Tom Boonen was equally unconvinced of the wisdom of Van Aert’s decision, telling Sporza: “He is going to regret it.”
“I understand. I have also helped teammates to win, but never in such a situation.”
"You help teammates to let them fight for the win. This again looked good for the team's marketing, but I don't know if I would have done it."
Boonen argued that Gent-Wevelgem was a bigger prize to give away than a stage of Paris-Nice, where last year Primoz Roglic and Van Aert also gifted Laporte a win.
He also argued that sprinting it out would have been fairest and that while Laporte will likely be more than willing to work for Van Aert at Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, “that is not a guarantee.”
Johan Museeuw joined Boonen and Merckx in arguing that it was not the right choice, saying: “In 15 years Wout might think back to this moment and be angry with himself.”
“He may not quite realize what he gave away,” Museeuw told VTM news. “The victory is gone. I wouldn’t have done it, but I couldn’t have. I also don’t see Pogačar doing this.”
Merckx and Boonen both won Gent-Wevelgem a record-equalling three times in their careers, while Museeuw never won the Belgian Classic. Van Aert has already once won Gent-Wevelgem, back in 2021.
Van Aert justified his decision in the post-race press conference by saying: “People at home only see this race, but Christophe is a good friend. We have been on the road together for a whole year, away at training camps together, and when you get into this situation, it would feel strange to sprint against one another.”
“For me, it’s very important to realise that it's not possible to do it all alone. And a day like today maybe gives me even more pleasure than winning myself.
Boonen argued that come what may, Van Aert’s success in the E3 Saxo Classic will have boosted the Belgian’s confidence for next Sunday in the upcoming Tour of Flanders.
Van Aert suffered on the climbs in the E3 Saxo Classic when Pogačar attacked but came through all the same to win the final three-way duel for victory.
“On Friday we saw the best Van Aert, but I’m not talking about his form, rather the way he approached it mentally,” Boonen said.
"He took a very big step towards a Flemish Monument. You don't have to be the best, it's all about winning.”